If you haven’t heard of the furor over Newsweek’s story on a biblical case for gay marriage recently, you have likely been without internet access. It’s virtually impossible to miss if you check out evangelical blogs or websites. Lisa Miller, the author of the article (“Our Mutual Joy“), has appeared on radio in the last week discussing her opinions with a variety of objectors, most notably Dr. Albert Mohler, who penned his own response to Ms. Miller’s piece. [See also: Carl Trueman’s piece.] In her appearance on NPR Tuesday, she lauded what she called the “living” nature of the Bible, “its truths speak to us over 2,000 years, that we can be flexible and can say, ‘ok, what it says about slavery, we’re not going to accept that anymore.’ Interestingly, we’ve decided not also to accept what it says about divorce – which is much stronger in the New Testament than whatever it says about homosexuality . . . and it’s beautiful to look at the Bible as this living document that applies to us even as we change through history.”
Herein lies the problem if you missed it, and I think Dr. Mohler brings this out clearly enough: biblical authority. What evangelicals know as the Bible certainly is “living” and does “speak to us.” However, what Ms. Miller describes as Scripture sounds more like it is “dead” and “spoken to.” If its laws and precepts are old, passing away, and no longer relevant for today, then it is a dead document without relevance to us today. Especially when this document claims to be the living, infallible, and inspired Word of God. If it no longer dictates to us how we are to order our lives, then it necessarily is dictated to, as in this case. Evangelicals have not discarded what the Bible says about divorce. Unfortunately, many have simply disobeyed what the Bible says about divorce. Furthermore, the issue of slavery in the New Testament is much more complicated than Ms. Miller lets on (but it doesn’t serve her rhetoric to be fair on that point).
The issue is biblical authority. The bible holds a different kind of authority for conservative evangelicals than it does for Ms. Miller’s kind. That’s where the heart of the issue is, and that’s where this debate will have to be played out if it is going to be resolved at all. As long as someone has a different standard of biblical authority, any appeals to Scripture are going to be talking past one another.
If the Bible is living and speaks to us today, then it cannot be corrected and applied on an ad hoc basis. It has to order our thinking and our lives in every way, even when that means that it steps on the toes of our cherished Western politically correct relativism.